May 8, 2017 at 1:22 am

REDEMPTION OF THE BEAST: The Carbon Cycle and The Demonization of CO2 – part 5

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Read part 4 here


Figure 1. Global net primary productivity increase as of 2010. The phenomenon of planetary greening has continued unabated since then. Source: CSIRO Australia. “Deserts ‘greening’ from rising carbon dioxide: Green foliage boosted across the world’s arid regions.” Science Daily, July 8, 2013.

Greening the Earth

When confronted with this reality of global greening, the typical response of environmental ideologues is to shut their eyes and cover their ears, or instead, to roll their eyes and adopt an air of condescending authority while referring to some totally imaginary scientific consensus and then affecting the hastiest possible retreat to avoid any further informed discussion.

NASA has found itself in somewhat of an awkward position with the results of this study. On the one hand they are subject to pressures emanating from the Executive branch of the U.S. Government, being considered an independent agency within that branch. What might be questionable at this point in time is the genuineness of NASA’s independence.

Several prominent NASA scientists have been in the forefront of promoting global warming fears and there can be no doubt that for eight years the Obama administration was pushing global warming orthodoxy as promulgated by the “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change − Summaries for Policymakers” and by powerful, well-funded environmental groups. On the other hand, NASA certainly deserves credit for featuring a report that introduces a critically important dimension into the debate on climate change that is not consistent with the mainstream, government-manufactured narrative – the debate that is, again, nowhere near being settled as proclaimed by those factions with political, economic or environmental agendas.

All of this contrary evidence should lead one to ask: How is it that the promoters of catastrophic anthropogenic greenhouse warming (AGW) never talk about any of the research discussed in this essay?

All of this contrary evidence should lead one to ask: How is it that the promoters of catastrophic anthropogenic greenhouse warming (AGW) never talk about any of the research discussed in this essay?

Is it because admitting a positive benefit contradicts their narrative? Is it because the evidence demonstrates that whatever may be the projected unfavorable consequences of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide, there is unequivocally an upside. I think the answer is obvious.

Those heretics who stray from the hallowed dogmas of climate change, or to use the original term, “greenhouse warming,” whether they be dissenting scientists, congressmen or women, journalists, independents or others, will face being thoroughly pilloried, slandered, vilified, maligned and denigrated by various eco-fanatics and ideological partisans for simply pointing out that there is a positive side to the increase in carbon dioxide. Several websites exist for the sole or primary purpose of smearing and discrediting climate change heretics and dissenters through guilt by association. (Two of the most execrable examples are DeSmogBlog and “SkepticalScience,” both of which subordinate and spin climate change science to propagandistic ends.)

But this idea of carbon dioxide benefits is so contrary to the official interpretation of “climate change” that all of those true-believers and promoters of AGW, heavily invested in the belief of a carbon dioxide triggered global climate catastrophe, will avoid by any means necessary the responsibility of confronting facts that do not support their doctrinal narrative. Even a modest open-minded scrutiny of mainstream and popular sources of information thoroughly confirms this evasion.

However, one thing is absolutely certain.

The world we live in is going to change. It has changed on all meaningful time scales which we are capable of measuring. It is going to continue to undergo a variety of changes no matter what we humans do, no matter what kind of regulations, legislation, taxes, subsidies or carbon remediation schemes are ordained by the high priests of climate change.

However, one thing is absolutely certain.
The world we live in is going to change. It has changed on all meaningful time scales which we are capable of measuring. It is going to continue to undergo a variety of changes no matter what we humans do, no matter what kind of regulations, legislation, taxes, subsidies or carbon remediation schemes are ordained by the high priests of climate change.

And sometimes those changes will be catastrophic.

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It is also a fact that human activity is going to play a role in these changes – more pronounced in some areas and less in others. And, it is also a fact that all change requires adjustment and adaptation. This is unavoidable. The picture painted by the research discussed herein on the biological effects of enhanced CO2 shows that there is an advantage and a benefit to the increase in atmospheric concentrations whatever else may occur as a consequence of a hypothetical and uncertain temperature rise.

In a realistic cost/benefit analysis one would ask whether or not, or to what extent, the positive effects counterbalance the negative effects of CO2-driven temperature increases. We can see that the intensified primary productivity of the biosphere could result in substantial gains in crop productivity, meaning more yield-per-acre, thus producing more food on less land. This would be an extremely valuable outcome, one the environmentalists should celebrate. In addition, the standing timber supply shows a powerful positive response to CO2 enrichment. The increased resiliency of plants to environmental stresses such as drought, disease, insect invasion, pollution and so on would be an outcome whose value would be immense.

It was 20 years ago (1997) that a report in the Annual Review of Plant Physiology and Plant Molecular Biology by three plant physiologists summed up quite succinctly the understanding of carbon dioxide’s known benefits to the plant kingdom by that time. In their abstract the authors’ state:

“The primary effect of the response of plants to rising atmospheric CO2 is to increase resource use efficiency. Elevated CO2 reduces stomatal conductance and transpiration and improves water use efficiency, and at the same time it stimulates higher rates of photosynthesis and increases light-use efficiency. Acclimation of photosynthesis during long-term exposure to elevated CO2 reduces key enzymes of the photosynthetic carbon reduction cycle, and this increases nutrient use efficiency. Improved soil-water balance, increased carbon uptake in the shade, greater carbon to nitrogen ratio . . . are all possibilities that have been observed in field studies of the effects of elevated CO2.” Abs.[see: Drake, Bert G., Miqeul A. Gonzalez-Meler & Steve P. Long (1997) More Efficient Plants: A Consequence of Rising Atmospheric CO2?: Annual Review of Plant Physiology and Plant Molecular Biology, Vol. 48, pp. 609 – 639]

Drake and Gonzalez-Meler were with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, and Long was with the John Tabor Laboratories, The Department of Biological and Chemical Sciences at the University of Essex, U.K.

Of course, this astonishing display of positive effects must be weighed against potentially negative ones. However, it should be kept in mind that the positive effects are the result of hundreds of empirical, real world studies on the effects of carbon dioxide on vegetation. Most of the negative consequences of increasing carbon dioxide concentrations at this point are conjectural, based upon projections accruing from computer simulations and are purely hypothetical, such as, for example, the speculated rise in temperature driving an increase in storm and hurricane activity, or an increase in the intensity and duration of drought, or the rising of sea level caused by the melting of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

Each of these assumptions can and should be challenged and tested, not proclaimed and then insulated from all further discussion and debate. It is this effort to shut down debate, by calling anyone who questions the assumptions driving government-sponsored computer models, a “climate change denier” that demonstrates there is a fundamental dishonesty involved and a major effort to stifle alternative points of view. Let us be clear: the use of terms like “climate change denier,” “denialist” and so on in response to legitimate questions and criticisms of computer-based projections of future climate change is a certain indication that the individual employing such terms is the witting or unwitting purveyor of a fraudulent, manufactured consensus and the subjugation of science to the service of propaganda. The use of such name- calling is intended to shut down the necessity of any further discussion or debate by discrediting anyone who questions the hallowed “consensus.” But those who engage in such name-calling are, in fact, only destroying their own credibility, especially when the names so employed have no basis in reality at all outside of their uninformed and misinformed imagination.
IN SCIENCE, THE DEBATE IS NEVER SETTLED!

Especially is it never settled with respect to an issue as complex as climate change. The term “climate change denier” is a blatant absurdity. NO ONE denies that the climate changes. Those who throw out this term are literally proclaiming their ignorance of the subject of climate change − or worse − they are revealing their dishonesty since, they are, to a greater or lesser extent, knowledgeable of these matters, but prefer to avoid honest discussion because of a commitment to political or economic agendas.

It is the purpose of this essay to inquire into the relationship between carbon dioxide and Earth’s biosphere, and her plant kingdom specifically. Seeking to answer the question of whether or not, or to what extent, the addition of trace amounts of carbon dioxide to the global atmosphere is going to trigger a catastrophic global warming, or any detectable warming at all, or something in between, is not the objective. However, in spite of IPCC projections, it now appears that the global climate is not as sensitive to increased CO2 concentrations as assumed in the early models that relied on introducing positive feedback processes to amplify the initial effect. On the other hand, as discussed above, the effect of an increase in carbon dioxide concentrations on plant primary productivity has been shown to be complemented by a modest temperature increase.

This is not to say that the role of carbon dioxide in provoking a warming of the global climate is in any way to be demoted from continued study or concern. However – again – the empirical evidence of actual global temperature and the IPCC’s computerized projections continue to diverge to the point that it is fair to question the assumptions regarding the effectiveness of increased CO2 concentrations on the warming of the global climate.

It is in the nature of the absorption of long-wave radiation by carbon dioxide that its capacity to capture and re-radiate heat energy is mostly accomplished by the first 100 parts-per-million atmospheric concentration, with diminishing effectiveness beyond that amount. This fact has important consequences regarding the efficacy of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide to actually provoke a significant warming of the global temperature and is a question that needs to be addressed in greater depth.

This is not to say that there are not limitations on the benefits, and most likely contraindications of elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide, and these, of course, need to be addressed. Nevertheless, an honest discussion of the consequences of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere needs to include all dimensions of the problem, and not be limited to only hypothetical negative effects.

The Little Ice Age (LIA)

There is one more factor relative to the phenomenon of carbon cycling that needs to be addressed in regards to the matter of climate change. It is especially important to understand that the advent of our ability to technologically monitor changes in global temperature on any meaningful scale goes back barely more than a century and coincided with the termination of the Little Ice Age.

The Little Ice Age was a period of global cooling that began in the early 14th century, and, with several interruptions, continued into the early and mid-19th century. Its cessation was not everywhere simultaneous – some regions warming earlier than others. It is considered by many paleo-climatologists to have included some of the coldest few centuries of the entire Holocene (the last 11 thousand years or so).

magicians of the gods, global temperature,

Graphic from Magicians of the Gods courtesy of Graham Hancock

The Little Ice Age was a time of worldwide expansion of glaciers with many of them growing more massive than they had been since the Great Ice Age ended at the beginning of the Holocene. The temporal and historical coincidence between the end of the Little Ice Age, the scientific ability to record and monitor temperature changes on a large scale, and the ability to measure atmospheric CO2 concentrations means that the baseline against which the degree of global warming is now being measured just happens to be one of the coldest periods of the entire Holocene.

This raises a legitimate question: How much of the temperature rise since the mid-19th century is natural and how much is CO2-driven? It is typical to plot data on temperature rise during the period from mid-19th century to the present as the dependent variable, plotting the time span on the x-axis only from the end of the LIA to the present. This is going to misleadingly exaggerate the appearance of the y-axis, making the temperature increase look more dramatic than it would appear if graphed on a longer time frame.

Since we have been discussing the positive consequences to vegetation and forest growth resulting from an increase in carbon dioxide concentrations and temperature, it would be valuable, by way of contrast, to look at the vegetation response to global cooling such as occurred during the Little Ice Age.

In November of 1993, Science News reported on the work of Ian D. Campbell of Forestry Canada in Alberta and John H. McAndrews, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist from the University of Toronto. These scientists studied how the Little Ice Age affected forests in southern Ontario. They designed a computer program that simulated forest succession over time by documenting the changing pollen record preserved in the soil and were thus able to obtain an estimate of associated changes in the biomass of regional forests. In summarizing the results of their research, the authors report that:

“The biomass declined by 30 percent during the Little Ice Age, indicating that the cooling knocked the region’s woodlands far out of equilibrium.” [see: Monastersky, Richard (1993) Minor climate change can unravel a forest: Science News, vol. 144, no. 22 (Nov. 27) p. 359]

It should be noted before proceeding that given the rebranding of the term “global warming” to “climate change,” as used in the title of this article, could easily be misleading. Since the phrase “climate change” has now been re-defined to mean human-driven global warming, and, unless one goes beyond the headline and reads the article, one would not know that it is actually talking about entirely natural global cooling instead. Whether the title of the article was deliberately chosen to mislead I cannot say, but the potential for such deception is certainly obvious.

In any case, the work of Campbell and McAndrews points to a rather disquieting fact: Global cooling is ominously unfavorable to Earth’s vegetation. A global biomass decline of 30% is disturbing to contemplate. The real question now begging to be asked is this: What would be the comparable effects today of a global cooling similar to the Little Ice Age on the world’s croplands and agricultural systems? While one cannot quantify with certainty, there is no doubt that a 30% decrease in food crops, similar to the estimated decrease of 30% forest biomass due to the onset of the Little Ice Age cooling cycle, would result in crop failures, major food shortages and subsequent famine. How much worse this would be than a 30 percent increase in the yield of food crops resulting from enhanced warming and CO2 concentrations cannot even be gauged.

If the Little Ice Age could have detectable injurious effects on northern hemisphere forests, what kind of effect would the Great Ice Age have? Several studies suggest the response was severe.

Carbon Dioxide Starvation

In 1997 a study was published in the journal Science on vegetation response to diminished CO2 availability during the Late Pleistocene. The lead author for the 8-person team was Professor Alayne Street-Perrott, with the Tropical Paleoenvironments Research Group at the University of Wales, Swansea. Other authors worked in geology, biogeochemistry, hydrodynamics, sedimentology, geography and radiocarbon dating. [see: Street-Perrott, F. et al. (1997) Impact of Lower Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Tropical Mountain Ecosystems: Science, vol. 278, No. 5342 (Nov. 21) pp. 1422 – 1426]

The team examined pollen from piston cores extracted from the bottom of two high-altitude lakes in East Africa. One of the things they looked at were changing carbon isotope values in organic matter. These shifts are a reflection of the kind of plants yielding the pollen that settled onto the lake bottoms. As briefly discussed earlier, there are two dominant types of plants defined by the particular way they take up carbon dioxide – the C3 and C4 plants. C3 plants constitute most of the global biomass including trees. C4 plants have apparently evolved in response to environments of low carbon dioxide availability. They have not infrequently been referred to as “weeds.” Isotopic analysis of leaf waxes and algal biomarkers were used by the team to reveal the type of plants growing in the nearby environment of the lake and hence to confer the ability to make inferences about the local climate at the time those plants were growing.

The authors summarize the conclusion of their research by stating:

“Here we show that changes in the partial pressure of atmospheric CO2 had a significant impact on tropical mountain ecosystems.” Pointing out that concentrations had been reduced to as low as 180 parts-per-million, they refer to earlier work by others on changing tree-line elevations due to presumed temperature changes. In particular they cite the work of geographer J. R. Flenley (1979 The Late Quaternary vegetational history of the equatorial mountains: Progress in Physical Geography, vol. 3, pp. 488 – 509) on tropical forestation of equatorial mountains. Flenley’s conclusions are interesting to say the least. I will let Flenley explain: “Until a few years ago, most people believed that the vegetation of equatorial mountains was essentially stable. . .” However, as it turns out, that is not the case, as Flenley goes on to explain:

“Since about 1960 several groups of enthusiasts have produced pollen diagrams purporting to show substantial changes in the vegetation of equatorial mountains during the late Pleistocene. Such diagrams became available for sites in South America, East Africa and New Guinea. Even after the publication of this work, many scientists preferred to remain unconvinced. It was always possible to find a reason why any particular site should be unrepresentative of a larger area.”

In other words, many scientists and workers in relevant fields were reluctant to acknowledge the degree of change that was being documented in various environments around the world, preferring instead the comforting belief in the natural stability of ecosystems over time.

“There comes a time in any subject when enough evidence accumulates for a dramatic change in orthodoxy to be appropriate, and I believe now is the time in this case.”

But, Flenley goes on to say that: “There comes a time in any subject when enough evidence accumulates for a dramatic change in orthodoxy to be appropriate, and I believe now is the time in this case.” The results of Flenleys 1979 updating and review of the more extensive evidence then available reveal what many scientists were loath to admit, but which has been confirmed by numerous subsequent studies up to the time of Street-Perrott’s 1997 paper. Flenley explains:

“In general, although not in detail, the vegetation found at a given point in the Late Pleistocene was similar to that now found at a higher altitude in the same area. During the period 33,000—30,000 BP, forest limits were lower than at present by at least 700 m and perhaps much more. Between 30,000 and 27,500 BP the limits rose somewhat but then declined again reaching their lowest levels of the last 30,000 years during the period 18,000—15,000 BP, when they lay at least 1000 m and possibly as much as 1700 m below present values.”

Up to 1700 m below present values! 1700 meters is almost 5600 feet, more than a mile. In other words, during the coldest part of the last phase of the Great Ice Age, tree-lines on tropical mountains were depressed by as much as a mile from the present tree limit. This is an extraordinary fact, with profound implications for any conception of global change. Interestingly, As Flenley also points out, studies show that by around 8000 years ago tree-lines had migrated to a somewhat higher elevation than at present, then declined back down to present elevations about 3000 years ago. None of this is in any way characteristic of a stable climate to which this planet can be returned with the implementation of politically contrived regulatory schemes.

Flenley concluded his report with a comment that stands in stark contrast to the prevailing environmental views of 1979 and of 2017: “The pollen diagrams show more or less continuous fluctuation in the composition of vegetation in the last 30,000 years. Even the Holocene forests have existed for only a few tree generations. This argues against the long-held ideas about the stability of equatorial vegetation.”

Flenley’s declaration that “There comes a time in any subject when enough evidence accumulates for a dramatic change in orthodoxy to be appropriate” is as relevant now as it was then, for as it was in 1979 – so it is again – time for a dramatic transformation in orthodoxy. The change for which more than ample evidence has accumulated has to do with a deeper understanding of the forces of global change and the realization that change on all scales has been a dominant factor in climatology, geology, biology, and in human history. However, vested interests have intervened in the scientific process to promote an agenda in which anthropogenic forces are now seen as the prevailing driver of global change to the virtual exclusion of natural factors that have been operational on all time-scales since the world began.

To bolster this agenda carbon dioxide has been portrayed as the purveyor of global doom, for carbon dioxide, being a byproduct of the energy industry that powers our emerging global civilization, provides an effective means to secure control over all aspects of society, industry, and the resources of this planet. Add to that the quasi-religious belief on the part of certain environmental factions in an imaginary scenario of a pristine, unchanging world to which balance and harmony would be restored if only the influence of humans could be eliminated and industrial progress curtailed in the name of saving the Earth.

I would suggest that there are two things modern environmentalists fail to realize: First, they fail to comprehend the extent to which planet Earth has been subjected to frequent and brutal assaults as part of a larger cosmic environment – assaults that generate intense global upheavals, extreme environmental and climatological alterations, biospheric disruptions, and mass extinctions – all far-exceeding in scale and intensity anything mankind has yet visited upon the planet, and, that these catastrophic disruptions of the planetary natural order occur with alarming frequency.

The second thing environmentalists fail to realize is that humankind is an integral part of the natural order, and that by creating a scientifically-advanced, technological and industrial civilization on Earth, humans are performing the precise function for which God, Gaia, or Natural Selection − take your pick − created the species homo sapiens sapiens.

While Flenley attributed most of the dramatic transformation in forest distribution at the end of the ice age primarily to changing temperature, Street-Perrott et al. see a substantial role for carbon dioxide:

“We conclude that the glacial-to-interglacial isotopic shift observed in lacustrine algae was driven by natural variations in dissolved CO2 . . . In agreement with recent model results . . . our isotopic data suggest that glacial-to-interglacial variations in atmospheric pCO2 had a significant impact on the distribution of tropical rain forests, thus contributing to the decrease in terrestrial biomass at the LGM.” (Late Glacial Maximum)
The LGM coincides temporally with Flenley’s period from 18,000 to 15,000 years ago when tree- lines were depressed up to a mile, or more, from present elevations. This period is considered by most paleoclimatologists to have been the period of most extreme cold during the final phase of the Wisconsin Ice Age, as it is called in North America. Street-Perrott et al. go on to say that the data they studied “also reveal the existence of severe carbon limitation in high-altitude lakes during glacial times.”

Severe carbon dioxide limitation in this case means 180 to 200 parts-per-million, about 1 molecule out of 10,000 less than the amount in the atmosphere at the dawn of the 20th century. Since then the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased by about one more molecule per 10,000 molecules of air, to where it is now 4 parts out of 10,000.

But think about this.

If the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is diminished by a mere 2 parts out of 10,000 from where it now stands, it will have extremely detrimental consequences for the biosphere. Photosynthesis of C3 plants would begin to shut down and this would have grave ramifications all the way to the top of the food chain. On the other hand, increasing the carbon dioxide content by a couple of additional molecules out of 10,000 of air provokes an almost miraculous response from the plant kingdom.

In fact, plants have such a voracious appetite for carbon dioxide that, one might argue, at present atmospheric concentrations the global plant realm is actually starved of its most essential nutrient. A number of attempts have been made by global warming true-believers to discount this interpretation and all that it implies, but their efforts are proving increasingly futile against the tidal wave of new information and the overwhelming evidence unfolding in front of our eyes.

In the same issue of Science in which the Street-Perrott et al. article appeared, Graham D. Farquhar with the Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University provided a valuable perspective on their work:

“Street-Perrott and her colleagues have studied the paleoenvironmental history of high-altitude lakes and the surrounding vegetation in East Africa. They examined the lake sediments, the pollen and leaf waxes in them, and the carbon isotope composition of bulk organic matter and of specific biomarkers. They conclude that the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since the last glacial period has allowed trees to grow where vegetation was (before 13,000 years ago) restricted to an almost treeless, grassy heathland.”

“The findings offer an explanation for a paleoecological puzzle . . . During the glacial times, the trees were being starved of the substrate for photosynthesis. Along these lines, Sage has argued that agriculture became viable at several places around the world . . . only when the CO2 concentration became sufficiently large to sustain decent yields for our first farmers.” [See: Farquhar, Graham D. (1997) Carbon Dioxide and Vegetation: Science, vol. 278 (Nov. 21) pp. 1411]

Farquhar also provides an important perspective on the increase in water use efficiency.

“For the individual plant, water-use efficiency is almost directly proportional to the level of CO2 for a given regime of temperature and humidity. So concentrations of 180 parts per million (ppm) (such as occurred during the LGM), being half the current levels, would mean that plants had to transpire twice as much water then as now to achieve the same level of photosynthesis. Put another way, doubling the CO2 concentration is almost like doubling the rainfall as far as plant water availability is concerned.”

He mentions one other factor that is worth considering:

“Further, increased greenhouse forcing also speeds up the global hydrological cycle, and so, on average rainfall increases with increasing CO2 concentrations. Many of the paleo-records indicate arid conditions during the LGM.”
Keep this in mind next time you are told in no uncertain terms that drought is going to increase with increased CO2 concentrations. (Along with storms, hurricanes, mass extinctions, rising seas, disease, more extremes of hot and cold, etc. etc.)

A factor I mentioned earlier has to do with the thermal capture ability of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere relative to the concentration. Farquhar elaborates on this point when he says:

“Both photosynthesis and the enhanced greenhouse effect are more sensitive to CO2 levels when the concentrations are low. . . The effects of the 180-ppm increase to the present 360 ppm should be much greater than the effects of going from 360 to 540 ppm, the latter being twice the preindustrial level. And in the same manner, the incremental thermal capture effects of going from 540 ppm to 720 ppm would be even less. Farquhar points out that:

“The plants of today are much less water- and CO2-limited than they were at the LGM. Nevertheless, one suspects that the direction of change in the near future will be the same as that following the LGM, of an increased ‘effective rainfall,’ with the agricultural and ecological consequences that follow. Given that the availability of water for agriculture is already becoming such a problem, this aspect, at least, of atmospheric change is a welcome one.”

Yes, one would think.

But how often do we hear this discussion in the mainstream media? I don’t recall Al Gore discussing any of this in “An Inconvenient Truth.” To the extent that it IS discussed by proponents of AGW, it is only for the purpose of discrediting and dismissing the positive benefits of carbon dioxide enhancement.

In regards to the matter of an atmospheric CO2 deficit during the ice age, Rowan F. Sage, mentioned by Farquhar above, with the Department of Botany at the University of Toronto, has developed a thought-provoking hypothesis that makes a great deal of sense given what we now know about the relationship between carbon dioxide and the biosphere. The title of his 1995 paper conveys the crux of his idea: “Was low atmospheric CO2 during the Pleistocene a limiting factor for the origin of agriculture?” He lays out the case for carbon dioxide as the limiting factor in the evolution of agriculture during the late Pleistocene. I will quote extensively from his paper:

“Agriculture originated independently in many distinct regions at approximately the same time in human history. This synchrony in agricultural origins indicates that a global factor may have controlled the timing of the transition from foraging to food producing economies. The global factor may have been a rise in atmospheric CO2 from below 200 to near 270 µmol—1 (ppm) which occurred between 15,000 and 12,000 years ago. Atmospheric CO2 directly affects photosynthesis and plant productivity . . . In the late Pleistocene, CO2 levels near 200 µmol—1 may have been too low to support the level of productivity required for successful establishment of agriculture. Recent studies demonstrate that atmospheric CO2 increase from 200 to 270 µmol mol—1 stimulates photosynthesis and biomass productivity of C3 plants by 25% to 50%, and greatly increases the performance of C3 plants relative to weedy C4 competitors. Rising CO2 also stimulates biological fixation and enhances the capacity of plants to obtain limiting resources such as water and mineral nutrients. These results indicate that increases in productivity following the late Pleistocene rise in CO2 may have been substantial enough to have affected subsistence patterns in ways that promoted the development of agriculture. Increasing CO2 may have simply removed a productivity barrier to successful domestication and cultivation of plants.” [see: Sage, Rowan F. (1995) Was low atmospheric CO2 during the Pleistocene a limiting factor for the origin of agriculture? Global Change Biology, vol 1, pp. 93 – 106]

Sage points out that “An outstanding feature of the origin of agriculture is that it occurred independently in distinct cultural regions around the world at approximately the same time in human history.” He then points out another extremely interesting statistic:

“Assuming Homo sapiens sapiens appeared in Africa between 200 and 150 ka, (thousand yrs ago) the period of initial domestication between 11 and 6 ka represents approximately 3% of the time modern humans have occupied the planet.”

History, I might add, dating from the rise of Sumer 3000 BC, is barely 2% of the time of modern humans on Earth.

Sage then articulates an inescapable conclusion: “Synchrony in the independent occurrence of identical biological or cultural phenomenon implicates a common environmental catalyst: however, no such factor has been satisfactorily identified for the origin of agriculture.” As Sage sees it the common environmental catalyst was the global rise in carbon dioxide that occurred at the end of the Great Ice Age. As he further explains:

“Even in regions favorable to agriculture during the Pleistocene, poor stress tolerance of plants as a result of low CO2 could have caused the frequency of crop failure to be too high. . . By increasing productivity, the end-Pleistocene rise in CO2 could have led to greater crop density, thus allowing a surplus of food to be gathered with much less effort. Increased surplus would have compensated for poor harvest years, while improved stress tolerance and soil fertility would have reduced the frequency of crop failure. With increased stability in the food supply, a continuity of agrarian experience between generations could have become established. . .”

After four or five millennia of such continuity the groundwork had been laid for the rise of civilization and the commencement of history and thus it blossomed in the Fertile Crescent.

But it must be emphasized that what has been confirmed in the past 22 years since the publication of Sage’s paper is that the end of the Pleistocene was overwhelmingly catastrophic on multiple fronts. Whatever successful social adaptations to Pleistocene conditions may have evolved prior to terminal events, they may be difficult or even impossible to detect because of the widespread environmental destruction that accompanied the planetary shift out of the ice age into the early Holocene.

For example, pervasive utilization of marine resources was a probable response to late glacial conditions, meaning that social and cultural groups would have occupied coastal areas that are now under 300 to 400 feet of ocean water.

Too many modern academics in fields of ancient history and prehistory are too quick to dismiss the possibility of relatively sophisticated cultural adaptations to late ice age environments, primarily due to their failure to appreciate how profound and far reaching were the environmental changes accompanying the shift to the present interglacial period, changes that can, without exaggeration, be described as globally catastrophic. The synchronous rise in agriculture, of which Sage speaks, may be the consequence not only of the rise in CO2 levels but also the post-catastrophe reestablishment of human population to numbers sufficient to undertake agriculture on a scale capable of leaving a discernable trace in the archaeological record.

As an interesting aside, in traditional and archaic traditions in which long-range time is reckoned by the changing of the astronomical ages, as marked by the passage of the vernal equinox through the constellations of the zodiacal wheel, Flenley’s period of deepest cold and severe carbon dioxide limitation from ca. 18,000 to 15,000 years before present would have occurred during the “Age of Scorpio.” Traditionally, Scorpio is the sign of death, which, somehow in this case, seems symbolically appropriate. It is entirely possible that during such a time the effort to merely survive may have been the dominant activity in which most humans were engaged.
Optimum Carbon Dioxide?

So let us now pose this question: What IS the right, perfect and optimum atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration for the global atmosphere? According to one faction, it absolutely can’t be over 350 parts-per-million, or we are doomed. That’s about what it was for a period around 1980. Prior to that, back in the 19th century, it was lower – about 280 parts-per-million, had stayed more-or-less steady at this concentration for millennia, and had not been significantly altered until humans began consuming fossil fuel.

At least that interpretation is the currently accepted version of the matter.

To demonstrate the stability of the atmospheric carbon pool, climatologists rely primarily on data from ice core proxies, which generally, although with some important exceptions, show roughly that concentrations remained more or less steady through time, at least over several hundred thousand years. But, it must be mentioned here, without elaboration at this time, that a number of glaciologists have challenged the accuracy of ice core data. Pointing out that there are many factors which can skew the results and that the concentration of carbon dioxide found in an ancient air bubble that was extracted from ice buried hundreds to thousands of feet down-core in the glacier and stored for thousands of years under conditions of extreme pressure, is not necessarily an accurate representation of the entire planetary average of atmospheric carbon dioxide at the time the snow originally fell in that one particular place. If it did, by chance, turn out that there were significant inaccuracies in the ice core data as to ancient atmospheric CO2 concentrations, it would render all of the elaborate computer models of the IPCC meaningless. But that is a discussion for another place.

In regards to the appropriate concentration, it all depends on what time-period one is referring to. It should be pointed out that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been steadily declining through geological time. The work of geoscientists Mark Pagani and his colleagues have demonstrated this phenomenon. This group, affiliated with Department of Geology and Geophysics at Yale University, the Earth Sciences Department at the University of California and the Department of Geosciences at Penn State University, studied deep sea cores to ascertain ancient climate patterns. They specifically looked at sedimentary organic molecules called alkenones that are produced by certain species of algae. By studying the stable carbon isotopic compositions of these alkenones, they are able to measure the CO2 concentrations of the paleo-atmosphere.

They describe the prevalent view of global climate change going back to the early Eocene Epoch, over 50 million years ago:

“The early Eocene [~52 to 55 million years ago] climate was the warmest of the past 65 million years. Mean annual continental temperatures were considerably elevated relative to those of today, and high latitudes were ice-free, with polar winter temperatures ~10°C warmer than at present. After this climatic optimum, surface- and bottom- water temperatures steadily cooled over ~20 million of years . . . High-latitude cooling eventually sustained small Antarctic ice sheets by the late Eocene culminating in a striking climate shift across the Eocene/Oligocene boundary (E/O) at 33.7 Ma. The E/O climate transition, Earth’s first clear step into “icehouse” conditions during the Cenozoic, is associated with a rapid expansion of large continental ice sheets on Antarctica in less than ~350,000 years.”

In reference to ancient atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations the authors state:

“Changes in the partial pressure of atmospheric carbon dioxide (pCO2) are largely credited for the evolution of global climates during the Cenozoic. However, the relation between pCO2 and the extraordinary climate history of the Paleogene is poorly constrained.” [Pagani, Mark, et al. (2005) Marked Decline in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Concentrations During the Paleogene: Science, vol. 309 (22 July) pp. 600 – 603]

The authors point out that various investigations have yielded conflicting results as far as tracking the relationship between changing carbon dioxide levels and changing global climate. They emphasize that “this deficiency in our understanding of the history of pCO2 is critical, because the role of CO2 in forcing long-term climate change during some intervals of Earth’s history is equivocal.” As an example they cite the Miocene Epoch, which lasted from about 25 to about 5 million years ago, in which there seemed to be no correlation between CO2 and climate change, what they call a “decoupling.” Pagani et al. point out the obvious when they state: “Clearly, a more complete understanding of the relation between pCO2 and climate change requires the extension of paleo-pCO2 records back into periods when Earth was substantially warmer and ice-free.” In regards to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere back then, they state:

“On a broad scale, our results indicate that CO2 concentrations during the middle to late Eocene ranged between 1000 and 1500 parts per million by volume (ppmv) and then rapidly decreased during the Oligocene, reaching modern levels by the latest Oligocene. In detail, a trend toward lower CO2 concentrations is evident from the middle to late Eocene, reaching levels by the E/O boundary that could have triggered the rapid expansion of ice on east Antarctica.”

1500 parts-per-million is almost 4 times higher than the present concentration. The following graph from Pagani et al. shows the trends in carbon dioxide levels up to the end of the Miocene (5.33 million years ago) and temperature from the early Eocene Epoch through to the present in the graph of oxygen isotope changes.


Figure 2. A. The decline in atmospheric CO2 since early Eocene times to the Pliocene Epoch in ppm. B. Oxygen isotope record of changing oceanic temperature from early Eocene to the present. The oxygen isotope record shifts up from right to left as the temperature cools. After Pagani et al. p.602

Shifts in oxygen isotope ratios track temperature changes. These shifts can be determined by studying the composition of the shells of sea creatures – in this case benthic foraminifera. Foraminifera are a type of amoeboid protist that forms shells from calcium carbonate in the ocean water. The shells preserve the ratio of the stable isotopes of Oxygen-16 and Oxygen-18 that are present in the ocean at the time the shells form. The ratio of these isotopes preserved in the shell is dependent upon the temperature of the ocean water. When the forams die their shells become part of the sea bed and eventually part of the great masses of limestone rock found all over the world. In addition it is known that the various species of forams inhabit different temperature regimes in the ocean, so when examining sea bed cores the changes in foram species track changes in environments based upon the changing temperature of the ocean water. This property of foram species can be used to independently corroborate the temperature changes indicated by the changing O18/O16 ratio.

Since the ratio of O18/O16 changes with temperature, much information about paleoclimate can be inferred by studying these changes through time. When the amount of O18 increases relative to the amount of O16, it implies a cooling of the ambient temperature. As long ago as 1953, S. Epstein, Harold C. Urey and colleagues were able to determine that an increase of 0.22% of O18 relative to O16 translated into an equivalent cooling of 1°C. (1.8°F). In the graph above from Pagani et al., one can see that the O18 has generally been increasing relative to O16, though with some interruptions, through the last 50 million years, corresponding to a progressive cooling of the global climate. One can also see that there were enormous swings in carbon dioxide and the atmospheric decline seems to have proceeded in a stepwise manner. We can clearly see near the terminal point of the oxygen isotope graph there is a major signal in the isotopic ratios correlating with the inception of glacial-interglacial cycles about 2.6 million years ago and the transition from the Pliocene to the Pleistocene Epochs.

The following graph provides a coherent image of the status of atmospheric carbon dioxide throughout Earth history. One thing that becomes apparent upon studying the graph is that CO2 concentrations and temperature do not track over time. Sources for the graph are as listed in the caption. [See also Nasif Nahle. Cycles of Global Climate Change.” Biology Cabinet Journal Online, July 2009.]

Another thing becomes apparent from studying this graph. Throughout the Pleistocene Epoch on Earth – the period encompassing the past 2.6 million years of ongoing glacial ages – carbon dioxide concentrations have been at their lowest in all of Earth history since Precambrian times. Only since the end of the great ice age 11 to 12 thousand years ago did concentrations begin to rise from their depressed Pleistocene state and only within the past century have they risen to more normal amounts when looked upon within the larger context of Earth history.

The information presented here inexorably leads one to surmise that the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere has been preternaturally low throughout the Pleistocene, and, that by releasing a small but significant amount into the global atmosphere, we human beings are stimulating a revival of an impaired biosphere, an impairment resulting from a planetary disruption occurring some 2.6 million years ago that initiated the cycle of increasingly erratic climatic and environmental behavior which has continued to manifest as the repetitive lurching into and out of glacial ages.
Two years after the publication of Pagani et al. the journal New Phytologist published a paper by Lewis H. Ziska and James A. Bunch, both research plant physiologists with the U. S. Department of Agriculture. These authors provide a valuable long-term perspective on the matter of changing atmospheric CO2 concentrations:

“Although terrestrial plants evolved at a time of high atmospheric CO2 (4-5 times present values), concentrations appear to have declined to relatively low values during the last 25—30 million yr. However, records of atmospheric CO2 concentration beginning in the late 1950s on Mauna Loa provide proof that the global atmospheric concentration of CO2 was increasing. These recent increases, and the projected concentrations of atmospheric CO2 . . . by the end of the century, therefore represent an upsurge of an essential resource, exceeding anything plants have experienced since the late Tertiary. [see: Ziska, Lewis H. & James A. Bunce (2007) Predicting the impact of changing CO2 on crop yields: some thoughts on food: New Phytologist, vol. 175, pp. 607 – 618]

Note that, once again, we have scientists observing the effects of carbon dioxide enrichment and describing it as a benefit, “an upsurge in an essential resource.” Here it is − the reality that AGW devotees and partisan factions deny − carbon dioxide is an “essential resource” and not a pollutant!
In their final thoughts the authors state:

“Given a current population of more than six billion with a projected increase of an additional billion every 12 yr, being able to reliably predict the impact of changing CO2/climate on global crop productivity certainly should be ‘food for thought’ for scientists and policy makers.”

“Food for thought” indeed. It is exceedingly difficult for scientists engaged in this research to come forward to elaborate on the benefits of rising carbon dioxide, as has been demonstrated by the treatment of researchers like Sherwood Idso, Willie Soon, Judith Curry, Richard Lindzen and many others who have been outspoken, as well as the fact that grant money is tied to global warming orthodoxy and the notion that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that must be regulated. One should take note of the fact that within the last year alone the Obama administration has transferred one billion dollars of American taxpayer’s money to the Green Climate Fund. To see how this compares with money contributed by the oil and gas industry to global warming critics and dissenters see my comprehensive review “Who Are the Real Climate Change Deniers.”

I am sure that some of the work of the GCF is valuable. However, to think that the enormous amounts of money flowing into the coffers of various “green” groups and industries, now amounting to billions annually, does not play a role in determining suppositions about climate change is exceptionally naive. The homepage of the GCF states that:

“Climate change is the defining challenge of our time. The human impact on our planet is unprecedented. . . Given the urgency and seriousness of the challenge, the Fund is mandated to make an ambitious contribution to the united global response to climate change.”

Here I must make a comment to provide a context for the statement that the human impact on our planet is unprecedented. Of course it is unprecedented, unless, that is, there was a time when global human population stood at some seven billion, comparable to today, which I am not in any way suggesting. Compared to the impact of previous generations of humans on the Earth of course the impact of seven billion is going to be unprecedented. But when compared with the impacts of natural forces upon the Earth over time the imprint of humankind could prove rather ephemeral.

If we consider why the human population has never been as great as the present we are lead directly to the realization that for most of the time that modern Homo sapiens sapiens has occupied this planet, the Earth has been in the grip of the brutal cold of an ice age. We know from recent history that times of global cooling have been detrimental to human population growth and times of global warming have been conducive to population expansion and social advancement. (I will have much more to say about this in another essay.) Given what we have discussed about the ineffectiveness of agriculture in a low carbon environment we can begin to understand the natural constraints imposed on human population growth.

What this remark by the Green Climate Fund ignores, and that I have been opining on for years, is the reality of catastrophic NATURAL climate change that has occurred over and over and over again. Let us be clear: in the quote above from the GCF, when the website states that climate change is the defining challenge of our time, they are referring exclusively to anthropogenic climate change. There is no place in their discussion for purely natural change. And when they talk about a “united global response to climate change” they are referring to the complete control of energy from production, through distribution to consumption, with every step in the process of energy utilization heavily regulated, taxed and limited by governments, bureaucracies and self-serving political factions. Such a response system, if ever implemented, would be the ultimate tool of absolute social control and it will have little to no effect on climate change whatsoever. There is no way that, in this context, a “united global response” could mean anything other than a totalitarian system of social control, whose only effect will be to leave human civilization unprepared and unable to cope with natural climate change.

In any case, the perspective one ought to derive from the entirety of this review is that the determination of what constitutes the natural, correct, appropriate, or optimum amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere depends upon whether you take the long view or the short view. As demonstrated, evidence suggests that at the time when huge ice sheets began to claim large swaths of the Earth’s surface, carbon dioxide levels were considerably lower than earlier times of climatic optimum when the poles were ice free, and, looking back across the paleoclimate record since that time, sometimes it appears that carbon dioxide levels and global temperature were tracking and others times not.

But, before proceeding further, I must add a detail in regards to what Pagani and his colleagues referred to as “a striking climate shift across the Eocene/Oligocene boundary.” This time interval between 33 and 34 million years ago was one of tremendous global change and upheaval. In addition to climatic changes, there were sudden and rapid mass extinctions across the boundary, vast geomorphic and biotic changes, and what is probably most significant is that there were at least two well-documented, large-scale cosmic impacts, and probably other smaller impacts, onto the Earth during this time. It may, in fact, have been a period of intensified asteroid or comet bombardment that initially triggered the “striking climate shift” and pushed the evolution of the planetary environment in a new direction, leading into “the extraordinary climate history of the Paleogene” and a steady trend toward long-term climate cooling, finally culminating in the onset of the great glacial-interglacial cycles that marked the onset of the Pleistocene Epoch 2.6 million years ago.

This was the epoch which we have supposedly been out of for only the last 10,000 years. I will address the role of great impacts in the history of the Earth in another essay. For now, note that there are two massive impact craters associated with the late Eocene/early Oligocene transition – one in Siberia and one under Chesapeake Bay, USA. These “astroblemes” or “star wounds” are proof that Earth suffered a major cosmic double punch at the termination of the Eocene. Additional evidence is now overwhelming that since those times, Earth has suffered dozens to hundreds of major cosmic impacts, each of which would have had significant effects on the global environment and climate. But, of course, this phenomenon is not incorporated into IPCC climate change projections.

More soon,

Randall Carlson

Read part 6 here